Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Outrage Game

As a follow-up to last week's post, Joe Klein has a fine column on the AIG bonus outrage:
There is a real crisis out there. It has existed for a while. It has been spreading slowly as factory after factory has shut down, as the gap between rich and poor ballooned, as the rich found ways to get richer betting on exotic financial instruments with all the economic substance of a roulette wheel, as the middle class found it harder to pay for college, for health care, for gasoline.

But most of the anger we see and hear comes from people who are paid to be angry, on cue, on cable television--as opposed to people with actual grievances. Suddenly, the White House press corps goes barking mad over the AIG Bonuses. It is said that the bonuses are an aspect of the bust that the "public" can understand; in truth, the bonuses are an aspect of the bust that reporters can understand. Suddenly, the Obama Administration has a "crisis." The President has to go on television and act as if he's angry, even though he knows these bonuses are the tiniest outcropping of outrageousness.
A bunch of people on Wall Street engaged in high-stakes gambling with a lot of other people's money and the reputations and stability of financial institutions that had endured for many decades. They amassed personal fortunes that the rest of us could scarcely imagine while burning down their firms and taking the entire global economy down with them. That's outrageous. That is un-fucking-believably outrageous. That a CEO at AIG who had been installed by the federal government to clean up the mess (along with some folks in the Treasury Department) decided it wasn't worth fighting in court over $150m in bonuses that the company was contractually obligated to pay--that's not outrageous.

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